Introducing myself in the USA

Dec 23, 2016

By Shelley Graner

Introducing myself in the USA

As humans, we need to quickly categorize the information we take in so we can make sense of things, and ultimately make decisions. Bali: spiritual; Delhi: chaotic; drunk guy at bar: steer clear. I’ve become acutely aware of this with dating profiles, which is essentially a list of labels we give ourselves… outdoorsy, adventurous, foodie, movie-lover, book worm. We tell people how to perceive us so they can decide if we’re worth pursuing. With such a short window to catch someone’s attention, these words carry a lot of weight. But labels are funny things.

For years my label was “responsible, West LA marketing manager.” I liked what it represented (stable, accomplished), but it really didn’t suit me. I started resenting it, and the job that came with it. After stewing in discontent longer than I should have, I changed labels, becoming the single woman who gave up her career to volunteer, travel and write about it. After reading many travel blogs, I learned the “quit your job to travel” label was as ubiquitous as shirtless photos on Tinder. Except I was a 39-year-old in a 20-something backpacker world, not something I was all together comfortable with. Sometimes I wanted to pull the damn label off; other times I clung to it for dear life. I sacrificed a lot for this travel thing, and for better or worse, I was going to make it stick.

During my 15 months of globetrotting, I picked up a few consulting clients. It wasn’t intentional, but as it happened, I liked the sound of “digital nomad.” It became my Goldilocks label. Not as seemingly carefree and irresponsible as “quit my job to travel,” but more exciting than “corporate marketing manager.” This one felt pretty good.

But then I came home at the end of 2014. Turns out the word “nomad” doesn’t work when you’re living within 50 miles of where you grew up, so in order to maintain my status, I convinced myself and others that my situation was temporary. My stuff was still in boxes, I was building my client base and I would hit the road again soon. I made good on that promise when I was contracted to work at the Cannes Film Festival. Phew! I could proudly sport my nomadic label once again, but then I felt conflicted because “glamorous Cannes” didn’t sit well next to “volunteer in India.” I kept attempting to categorize myself so I knew who I was, which became fuzzier the more I tried to figure it out. How could those coexist? In which box did I belong?

When I decided to return to Buenos Aires earlier this year, a place that had given me such joy 18 months prior, it was to stamp my digital nomad card again. I needed to prove this lifestyle I had chosen was sustainable. During those two months I spent a lot of time alone, away from comforting distractions, wondering if I could really make it work. Wondering if I WANTED to make it work. Hell, what kind of life did I actually want? Cue the anxiety storm.

Could all this travel be a means of escape? Was I running away from things I didn’t want to deal with, and questions I was afraid to answer? Yikes. “Escapee” was NOT the label I wanted to display.

I mistakenly thought not being tied to a location meant I was free. I could choose where, when and how long. Turns out, by chasing this so-called freedom around the globe, I was really just collecting labels and putting myself in different boxes. Boxes and freedom sound counterintuitive because they are.

I’m starting to understand freedom comes from not *needing* labels; from being comfortable with the fact that I’m a mish-mash of so many things, some of which contradict each other. I’m not a neat little package, and I’d venture to guess no one else is either.

Labels are a problem when they become something we need to live up to, or hide behind. Sure we use them to make sense of the world, but we need to recognize when they’re running the show—when they’re wearing US.

So here I am, a former corporate marketer who quit her job to travel, now living in suburbia. I have no idea how long I’ll be here or what’s next, and that freaks me the hell out, but I know I won’t find answers “out there.” People will want to categorize me, and I understand that, so I need to be ok with the “I don’t have a friggin’ clue” badge right now. It’s not comfortable or sexy, but it’s the truth.

In the meantime, I’ll keep swiping left on those shirtless photos. Some labels are extra sticky.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.

About the Author

Shelley Graner

Shelley Graner is a writer and marketing consultant. Her home base is Southern California, but her identity crises follow her to coffee shops around the world. When traveling, she prefers to move at a slower pace for a deeper appreciation of people and culture, and to keep tourism money within the community.

We Said Go Travel

We Said Go Travel